September 14, 2010

It all adds up…

Mike Beamish
Vancouver Sun

The Number 23, a creepy, psychological cinematic thriller starring Jim Carrey, played on one man’s obsession with the properties of 23, a number that has fascinated mathematicians, physicians, astronomers and religious adherents with its apparent significance for centuries.

The 23 enigma holds that all events or incidents in the world are directly related to 23 or some modification of the number. It’s also the jersey numeral that belonged famously to Michael Jordan, Eddie Shack, Thomas Gradin, Mark Washington and, more recently, has been adopted by Jamall Lee of the BC Lions.

Lions head coach and GM Wally Buono is also fixated on 23, it would appear. And it’s no coincidence. Buono, after all, was born on Feb. 8, 1950 — those numbers adding up to the pairs of chromosomes in a human cell, the amount of time for blood to circulate through the body, the 23 dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, and the fact that Julius Caesar — the Roman emperor, not Julius Caesar Watts, the former Ottawa Rough Rider quarterback — was stabbed 23 times.

In addition to Lee, whose age matches his number, there is a cohort of 23-year-olds on the Lions which almost defies explanation — Steven Black, Dominie Pittman, Andrew Harris, James Yurichuk, Solomon Elimimian, Akeem Foster, Shawn Gore, Adam Leonard, Cauchy Muamba, Manny Arceneaux (in three days) and Jovan Olafioye (in December). Joe Henderson, Justin Sorensen, Dane Randolph, Rolly Lumbala and Jeremy Geathers were 23 at some point earlier this year, as were Terrence Scott, Montrell Craft, Robert Jordan and Adam Baboulas, starters or practice roster players who have been released.

It’s a little known fact, but the Lions didn’t re-sign kick returner Ryan Grice-Mullen following his release by the Miami Dolphins because he’s 23 and Buono said, “Enough, already.”

Besides, with the emergence of Harris, there appears to be no need.

The 23-year-old Winnipeg native was awarded the special teams game ball Saturday after his 72-yard kickoff return to start the second half propelled the Lions to a 37-16 win over the Toronto Argonauts at Empire Field. Two plays after Harris‘s return, the 23-year-old Black scored on a touchdown pass from quarterback Casey Printers, who won the CFL’s most outstanding player award in 2004, at age 23. Presenting the game ball to Harris, of course, was special teams captain Jason Arakgi, who was born in 1985. And guess what number those digits add up to?

“We’re all young, so there’s a bright future for us,” Harris says.

For a while, however, nobody was quite sure where his future in football was headed.

Despite Harris being the most impressive running back at training camp last year, when he was still of junior age, Buono talked of converting him to a safety. Harris was a Lions practice roster participant throughout the 2009 CFL season while he moonlighted on the weekends as a phenom with the Vancouver Island Raiders, a much-hyped running back who, ironically, won the Wally Buono Award as the top junior player in Canada, even though Wally Buono, the coach, hesitated about playing Harris on offence in the pros.

“That’s kind of water under the bridge now,” admits Harris, who was used in training camp this year as a wide receiver, kick returner and special teams player. “I went through that stage last year. I got to practise as a safety, but I was willing to do anything to get on the field. I got moved back to running back this week, and then I’m a returner [against Toronto].”

Buono says that Harris‘s willingness to sublimate his ego and play anywhere he’s required is what turns a slack-jawed 23-year-old into a respected twenty-something pro.

“He had tremendous success at the junior level,” Buono says, “but you never saw that cocky side to him. And yet, Andrew’s got tremendous, tremendous self-assurance and confidence. You say, ‘Andrew, go play here.’ He says, ‘No problem, coach.’ He’s that kind of athlete. He gets it. He’s got that football IQ, that savvy. And no matter what position you put him at, he’ll be good at it.”

“When I see him run the football, I just like what I see,” veteran Geroy Simon said of Harris earlier this season. “I’m not the one to make decisions but … for me, I think he’s a really good running back.”

Still, with Jamal Robertson, Yonus Davis, Jerome Messam, and Lee — who seldom gets touches but does something with the football every time he does — and now Lumbala back from the NFL, running back, tailback and fullback represent a full house for the Lions.

Harris might have to be content to make his YouTube moments as a returner with running back instincts, such as his shining moment against the Argos. He ran upfield, bounced into a pile of players but remained upright, regaining his bal
ance with his right hand on the turf but not his knee, then rocketed north with a trail of tacklers in his wake.

“He’s got speed. Andrew’s always had good speed,” Buono says.

“If you’re an athlete, you’re an athlete,” Harris adds. “A lot of what happens on kick returns is pure instinct.”

He finished the game with three kickoff returns for 119 yards and a longest effort of 72.


Interesting: 3+1+1+9+7+2 equals …